During the parliamentary debate on 22 and 23 October 2007 over the petition to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sex between men, the People's Action Party (PAP) members of parliament (MPs) listed below spoke out against it.
- 1 Christopher de Souza
- 2 Zaqy Mohamad
- 3 Indranee Rajah
- 4 Alvin Yeo
- 5 Ho Geok Choo
- 6 Ong Kian Min
- 7 Cynthia Phua
- 8 Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
- 9 Lee Hsien Loong
- 10 Lim Biow Chuan
- 11 Seah Kian Peng
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
Christopher de Souza
The retention of section 377A is a non-amendment. Yet, its retention has attracted the most press. Some argue to repeal it and provide reasons to support their position. Others say repeal because the law is archaic, not abreast with the times, displays Singapore to be inflexible.
I do not agree with this position and provide a number of arguments in support of retaining section 377A and, in so doing, record my support for the Bill.
Consequences of repealing section 377A
The first argument is a basic one. It involves the possible consequences of appealing section 377A. A repeal of section 377A will not merely remove an offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual lifestyle. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity.
As a result, homosexual lifestyle no longer remains private but travels into spheres traditionally reserved for heterosexual couples. The point I make is this. It is a misconception to argue for the repeal of section 377A on the ground that "what goes on behind closed doors will not affect us, so no point criminalising it". It is also a misconception to argue that "what is private, will stay private" and therefore there is no harm repealing section 377A. Such arguments are incorrect.
The truth of the matter is that if we do repeal section 377A, what is in private will not remain private. There are far-reaching consequences. If it is repealed, arguments can be made that rights accorded to heterosexual couples must be accorded to homosexual couples. This has happened in many jurisdictions - the United States, UK, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, to name a few. In Singapore, we have had recent calls by lobby groups advocating the trumping of minority interests over wider society's preferences and priorities.
This argument is attractive. But, really, what are the consequences? What if section 377A is repealed? Surely, the answer to this must be weighed in the balance. So, let us consider the consequences of repealing section 377A.
One major consequence is the effect that such an appeal may have on the institution of marriage. Take Massachusetts, for example. In the case of Goodridge v the Department of Public Health, the US
Massachusetts court ruled that a law denying marriage licences to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The court disagreed with the argument that child-rearing was best performed under the care of a heterosexual couple.
It is the same situation in the United Kingdom, except that gay marriages are termed same-sex civil partnerships. In fact, the law in the UK is entrenched in the Civil Partnerships Act of 2004. Under that Act, a civil partnership is defined as a relationship between two people of the same sex which is formed when they register as civil partners of each other. Perhaps, some supporting the repeal of section 377A may say, "Well, that does not matter. That marriage relationship can still be private. It does not pervade common space." Unfortunately, that is incorrect. There has been recent judicial opinion in the United Kingdom that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 grants the same-sex couples the same legal recognition that the law grants to opposite-sex couples. It allows them a formal status with virtually identical legal consequences to those of marriage. Incidentally, the United Kingdom is the jurisdiction with which Singapore law has the most intimate relationship. What happens there could happen here, if section 377A is repealed.
So, this is not a private matter between two consenting male adults. It is a public matter, the effects of which will be felt by all in the wider community.
Adoption by same-sex couples may be the second consequence of a repeal of section 377A. Is this far-fetched? No. The UCLA School of Law reported in March 2007 that, to date, 10 states in the US allow same-sex partners to adopt children as couples. About the same number either implicitly or explicitly state that sexual orientation cannot legally prevent homosexual persons from adopting. The same 2007 report from Williams Institute, UCLA, states that gay and lesbian parents are raising 4% of all adopted children in the United States. Is this just a US phenomenon? No. The International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family stated in a 2002 report that the Danes have since removed the prohibition on same-sex couples adopting, while the Netherlands has expressly legislated to permit such adoptions. This has forced societies to accept what some academics called the modern family in its many variations. Do we want our family-centric culture and the traditional definition of family to be threatened? They will be, if section 377A is repealed. This is not just a private matter.
Another consequence, if section 377A is repealed, is the effect it will have on spousal rights. Same-sex partners may be statutorily entitled to benefits because of their new-found spousal status. This is already the position in some states in the US. Where Massachusetts is concerned, the Goodrich decision now permits same-sex spouses to take advantage of statutes allowing an employee to include his or her spouse in the health insurance coverage. How will we cope in Singapore, where traditional definitions of family and marriage had been the bedrock of the HDB policies? How would it affect the laws of intestacy? Would we then change the definitions of spouse under, say, the CPF Act or Income Tax Act? These are far-reaching consequences.
The last consequence of a repeal of section 377A is its effect on how we may have to educate our children. It flows that with changes in how marriage, the family nucleus and spousal rights are defined, there will be pressure to change our curricula in our schools. Do we want to see our children being taught that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle choice? This is something that we should all think carefully about.
In the light of these consequences, I ask that we do not treat these calls for the repeal of section 377A lightly. It is a misconception to think that repealing section 377A is simply the repealing of an outdated and obsolete offence. Instead, such a repeal would have far-reaching consequences.
Some say that the retention of section 377A does not shield society from harm. I do not think that line of argument is defensible in light of the possible consequences the repeal may bring.
Lack of enforcement
The lack of enforcement is another argument put forward by those advocating a repeal. Whether section 377A is enforced or not is the decision of the Executive. In fact, the Ministry has just confirmed in the Second Reading of the Bill that it has been enforced in certain circumstances. By retaining section 377A, the consequences listed above can be prevented. In any event, enforcement cannot be construed as the sole litmus test for an effective law. The effectiveness of section 377A is seen in what it prevents beyond the act criminalised. For example, to attempt suicide is an offence in Singapore. Yet, how many are prosecuted for it? I dare say a negligible percentage of those who do attempt to commit suicide. Yet, the offence remains on the books even after this amendment because it conveys the message that we do not want people taking their own lives. Will that message become weaker if the offence is taken off the books? Of course, it will. That is why we cannot only be fixated with enforcement.
Scientific arguments that homosexuality is genetic
In recent years, by comparing identical twins to fraternal twins, scientists have attempted to prove a genetic basis for homosexuality. However, such studies are now called into question because the scientists drew their subjects from non-representative samples. Indeed, the earlier twin studies were criticised as being "ascertainment-biased", in that homosexuals with gay siblings were more likely to volunteer for studies. Later twin studies have been drawn from broader, more representative samples. In a recent large-scale study by two universities, ie, Yale and Columbia, researchers concluded that "We find no support for genetic influences on same-sex preferences net of social structural constraints."
However, even if we take the argument that homosexuality is genetic at its best - I do not agree with it - but even if we take that argument at its best case, does that merit a repeal of section of 377A? It does not. Natural predispositions should not translate into exceptions from the law. Genetic or natural predispositions do not translate in removal of related offences. For example, it is a known fact that some members of our society suffer from a medical condition known as kleptomania. However, this does not merit repealing all the offences in the Penal Code relating to theft.
The open letter
I have read the open letter to the Prime Minister seeking the repeal of section 377A. Several points are worth highlighting.
Firstly, the letter states: "a gay man should have exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman," and "Singapore will be woefully out-of-step with the rest of the world should it retain this legislation." I have just read the Petition which was put on the seat, and it seems that the Petition takes the same position. It seems from these words that the letter seeks not just a repeal but an unreserved embracing of the homosexual lifestyle, ie, marriage, adoption, spousal rights and so on.
Secondly, the letter seems to adopt the position that section 377A should be repealed even if "those who disapprove of gay people outnumber those who support them."
Thirdly, the letter claims that section 377A contravenes Singapore's Constitution. Any analysis of the relevant Article, ie, Article 12, must come with a study of the authoritative judgment in Ong Ah Chuan. To my mind, this case will not support the letter's position.
For these reasons, I support the Government's retention of section 377A.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I will begin my speech in Malay.
(In Malay): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the Penal Code amendments are timely and even necessary, with various developments in society, crime patterns and our social situation. Basically, these legislative amendments aim to continue to preserve Singapore's well-being and security, and tighten our protection. From some changes suggested, we can see how the amendments aim to respect our daily lives as well as our multi-cultural and multi-religious culture. It also ensures our children are safely raised. It is our responsibility to protect our young children as they have the right to grow in a safe situation in this country.
Overall, I support the Government's effort to update the Penal Code to protect our interests. However, there are a few areas that raise concerns and need further refinement. We have to look at the Penal Code changes in totality to bring the benefits and effectiveness of law to all levels of society. I hope that the focus of debate on this Bill will not be dragged into too much attention to heated arguments on homosexual activities under section 377A.
In my view, the Government's status quo stand on homosexual activities under section 377A is for the benefit of society as a whole. The fact is, even though our country is open and receptive to changes and diversity, our society's majority view is still conservative in many aspects of life. But I concede that current points of view, especially amongst youths, are changing to a more progressive one. Homosexual activities, although undoubtedly exist, are still considered a lifestyle outside the mainstream society. From a secular point of view, it is something personal and I feel that it is good to leave it as such. But many of my constituents and community leaders have given feedback that by making the activity not considered as an offence, it can be seen as an endorsement or support and this will divide society. They believe that the Government will make the appropriate decision that will reflect our social situation in Singapore. And this includes the consideration for the Petition presented by NMP Siew Kum Hong in Parliament just now. I feel we should not make the issue a big one, and let us look at the Penal Code amendments from a bigger perspective and for the benefit of the majority of Singaporeans.
I turn now to the comments made by Mr Siew Kum Hong, both in respect of his Petition and section 377A itself. I think I can have some sympathy with the concerns that the gay community or the homosexuals in Singapore have, but I would like to address some specific legal points made by Mr Siew. The entire basis on which the Petition rests is that it is a violation of Article 12(1) of the Constitution which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. But actually, the submission that has been made by Mr Siew is not quite correct in its interpretation and taken out of context. What Article 12(1) really means, by way of an illustration, would be this. If somebody is charged with theft, for example, you cannot say that, " I will prosecute you if you are a homosexual, but I would not prosecute you if you are a heterosexual." That would be an unequal and discriminatory application of the law. So that is what it means when you say that all persons are equal before the law. We do not look at your sexual orientation in determining whether or not you should be prosecuted or you should be charged.
Article 12(1) of the Constitution and the provisions on equal protection do not mean that the same law applies to every group. An example of this is section 376A on sexual penetration of a minor under 16, irrespective of consent. Because, for someone above 16, you look at consent and you see whether or not that person consented, and then it is fine. But in the case of a minor under 16, there is no consent. The minor may well say, "But the law says that all persons are equal before the law. I am under 16. I give my consent. You should treat me equally as an adult." But we do not argue with that. And why do we not argue with that? We do not argue with that because we recognise that minors are a special group and have to be treated differently and they require certain protection.
Of course, that comes to the issue of whether or not you should treat homosexuals differently. I would come to that in a moment, but I just want to address another legal submission made by Mr Siew which is that we can have a departure from Article 12(1) if there is a rational nexus or legitimate purpose for the statute in question. Then, he went on to say that the purpose in question for the amendments in the Penal Code is that Singapore is a safe and secure society and there is no rational nexus between the keeping of section 377A to this stated purpose.
The first thing I would say is that that purpose was a purpose stated in the public consultation paper of the proposed Penal Code amendments. It does not come from a statute and it is not part of legislation. It is very obviously a summary of the purpose of the amendments. But if you want to take that sort of argument, then what about the distribution of pornographic material? You could, if you want to take the same argument, say that distribution of pornographic material has nothing to do with a safe and secure society as it is
not a threat to persons and property. But all of us accept that distribution of pornographic materials is something that should be regarded as an offence. So in exactly the same way, it is the broader concept of what we regard to be a safe and secure society. When we look at the safety and security of Singapore, we also look at the question of public morals, public decency and public order.
Mr Siew also talked about public morality as being the wrong touchstone. I think he said that public morality has been cited as the basis for legislation to enforce slavery, discrimination against racial and religious minorities, discrimination against women, etc. But in a way, that exactly proves the point. At the time when they had slavery, there were laws in place which reflected the public morality of that time. If you had been in America at that time when they had slaves and you had said to somebody, "You should not have slaves because slavery is wrong", nobody there, at that time, would have agreed with you because the society was such that that was the correct thing at that time. And that is precisely the point because societies do evolve. Clearly, we have evolved to a stage where we now regard slavery as wrong. We certainly regard discrimination on racial and religious grounds as wrong. But in some places, that is still regarded as correct, which just brings us back to the point that in each case, it is a question of what society is prepared to accept.
I come to what is Singapore prepared to accept. I do not think we want to have a situation where we demonise homosexuals. We certainly do not want to regard them as anything less than Singaporeans. But the point is: what does our society want for itself? Societal rules are not purely a matter of free choice. A murderer could say he is free to kill but society disagrees. Murder is a crime. The right to free speech, for example, does not extend to vilifying another race or religion. And once you have different groups that live in a society, you have to accept that there will be some restrictions on behaviour, and particularly so in Singapore, where we have a small land area and a population of diverse races, religions and beliefs. If we have a difference of views then, what do we do?
One group says, "I want this". Another group says, "No, I want that." How do we decide? We have to come down to a decision one way or another and, in most cases, we would go with the majority view, unless there is a reason to protect the minority position. So, under the Constitution, for example, there is no discrimination on the basis of race or religion. Why? Because society as a whole accepts that there should be no discrimination on the basis of race or
religion. But that is not the universal principle. That is something we accept here, but there are some countries where there is institutionalised discrimination on the basis of either race or religion as part of their official policy. And for those countries, they consider it right. But in Singapore, we do not. So, in each case, we have to consider what the society regards as the correct or the right way to decide for that society, and particularly so in a State like Singapore which is a secular state. A secular state's position should be that we go with the majority view unless there is a particular reason to uphold the minority position, and legislation has to be a reflection of the societal norms and what is acceptable to that society.
In this case, the public reaction has shown that the majority of Singaporeans do not agree with or accept homosexual behaviour. I think it will be fair to say that most Singaporeans do not want to see somebody jailed for homosexual practices, but most would definitely not want to see any public demonstration of the conduct. They may be prepared to tolerate it if it is done in private, but they do not wish to see it in public and, very importantly, they do not wish to have their children see it in public. Then, of course, the argument comes, "OK, fine, if we do not do it in public, what if we just do it in private?" And that is where the signalling concern comes in, because people are concerned about the impact that a repeal of section 377A would send.
Many Members may recall that some years back, the Senior Minister had made the statement that the civil service would not discriminate against gays. And that was a progressive statement because it indicates that the civil service would not discriminate against employing a homosexual just because he is a homosexual. That was already an advance of a public position from what we had 20 years ago. I do not think the Government would have made such a statement like that 20 years ago. That shows that we have evolved to some extent where a statement like that can be made. But immediately after that statement was made, I had a number of pastors coming to speak to me to say, "Why is the Government endorsing homosexual behaviour?" The Government was not endorsing. The Government was saying that we would not discriminate against a homosexual in terms of employment because he is a homosexual. But the immediate public perception, at least for many people, was that it is just not discrimination, it is an endorsement. And our society, obviously, has not arrived at the stage where we can just separate the two. It is not as easy as that, and people see it as an important form of public signalling. Therefore, the stance which the Government is taking is, in fact, an exact reflection of what Singapore society in general think, which is that if you really have to do it in private, the Government and the Police will not take a proactive enforcement policy but, at the same time, we do not want to send a message to everybody that this is correct, because we have to take into account the majority view. And I think that many liberal groups have, for a long time, thought that the Government was exaggerating the extent of the conservatives in Singapore, but that is not so. I appreciate Mr Siew's point that there were many people who would have written, emailed or given support to the Petition on the Internet. But I can tell you that for every one of those, there was someone who emailed us as Members of Parliament to say, "Do not repeal. Keep it. We thank the MPs, we thank the Government for keeping this law."
Sir, when we have a situation like that, when we have one group that feels very strongly to keep the law, and another group that feels strongly to do away with it, what do we do? We have to make a decision. And the obvious decision in such a situation is to maintain the status quo, and to recognise that somewhere along the line, the situation may evolve. It may well change, just as the position on slavery changed, just as the position on a woman being a chattel changed, thank goodness, just as many other things have changed along the way.
Actually, we think about it, that was the conclusion that the Workers' Party arrived at. Members will recall that Ms Sylvia Lim said that the Workers' Party had debated it for a long time, and they basically could not arrive at a consensus. And because they could not arrive at a consensus, they figured that they should let the status quo remain. And until such time when society is ready to move, the Government's position is the correct position, which is - let things develop but, in the meantime, obviously, they have signalled that they will not actively prosecute, although that may be different if the act is done in public, and it certainly may not be the case if a minor is involved. In that way, it is a compromise of sorts, but we always have to have a compromise when we live in a society where there are diverse groups.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, thank you for allowing me to take part in this debate at this late hour. After such powerful moving speeches from our two Nominated Members of Parliament, one is tempted to remain silent. But allow me to respectfully add my perspective.
In the run up to this debate, I read an interview or feature in the New Paper where Mr Siew Kum Hong was asked for his personal background and his reasons for bringing this parliamentary Petition. He replied that his personal background was irrelevant to the issue and that he was bringing this Petition as he supported the principle of equality of treatment, including for those who engage in homosexual conduct.
I should say that I agree with Mr Siew that one's personal background is simply not relevant to the issue and, personally, I applaud Mr Siew for his willingness to subject himself to intense media and public scrutiny for a principle he subscribes to. I say that one's own background and indeed one's own personal views are not what is really important. Because our role as Members of this House is to represent not so much our own views, but those who have placed us in this position of responsibility. This means that one has to take account of not just the minority views but the majority views as well, to not just listen to the vocal, the articulate, the high profile spokesmen for their various causes, but to try and discern the views of the vast and silent segments of the population whose views and feelings run just as strong.
It is generally accepted that a large portion of the population remains uncomfortable with, even troubled, by homosexual behaviour. The Straits Times ran a poll where something like 70% expressed discomfort with these views. Those of the Muslim faith, many with Christian beliefs, oppose the condoning of homosexual conduct. Do their views not have to be taken into account? Is this tyranny of the majority? Some commentators think that it is outmoded for our laws to reflect the moral and social values of the people it governs. I disagree.
In our nation which has, as one of its ingrained principles, the rule of law, indeed it is usually considered one of our competitive strengths as well, the law stands, not just as a boundary line of what conduct will or will not be prosecuted, but as a moral compass of what we stand for. It is a benchmark of our values, our beliefs, not just a reference book to determine when we can sue and when we can be sued. That is why our courts, in interpreting the law, have always required parties to observe not just the letter of the law, but also its spirit and its purpose.
In this regard, I do take issue with the two points that Mr Siew, notwithstanding his forceful and loquacious arguments, has made. The first is that, because the Ministry has said that section 377A will not be proactively enforced, it is an admission that no harm results from it. I think other speakers, more eloquent than me, have spoken of the social and psychological and moral harm that can result from embarking or slipping down the slippery slope. I prefer to think that the stand of the Ministry is not because they recognise that there is no harm, but because they wish to show some degree of tolerance to those who subscribe to different views to give them some space in their personal lives. But they are standing firm on what the principles and beliefs that our society stands for in continuing to have this law on the statute books.
Mr Siew also says that he does not agree with this "signposting" argument because, to him, signposting is an all-or-nothing approach. Again, I have to respectfully disagree. There are certain key markers in all our laws which reasonate through the fabric of our society more than others. For instance, how many of you have heard of section 498 which has to do with enticing a married woman, and how many of you consider that doing away with that law means that this House is permitting adultery or promiscuity? Certainly, from all the press reports, none of them seem to labour under the misimpression that the non-repeal of section 377A was what that particular signpost was about.
One of the points made is about equal treatment for all before the law, including homosexuals, which I think is the central plank of the petition that has been presented. Equality before the law is a fundamental concept. But it cannot be looked at in vacuum. It does not deprive a state, a government, of regulating what it considers to be proper and correct behaviour. It is equal rights for all, as measured against the values and beliefs of our society. And our society is a multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural one. So, for instance, we have an Administration of Muslim Law Act which imposes a separate regime on Muslims in family and estate matters. Yet, we do not hear complaints about unequal treatment from either Muslims or non-Muslims. It is accepted as part of our multi-cultural, multi-religious Singapore.
To take another more recent example, the Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA), where Muslims are not subject to the same opting-out provisions on account of their religious beliefs.
Even then, discussions and consultations are going on within the Muslim community and outside, to remove this particular difference. Again, the principle of equal treatment of all has to be moderated by our aim of preserving harmony among our different races, of mutual respect for each other's beliefs. I do not believe that anyone seriously contends we should not continue to uphold this.
Having said that, there may be something to be learnt from HOTA and the discussions relating to its possible change. To those who support the removal of section 377A, it is an object demonstration that laws can and do change based on a reconciliation of different views. But such changes, particularly where they involve deeply-held deep-seated religious and moral beliefs, do take time and they cannot be forced. Indeed, I hope that all concerned in this particular lobby effort will be patient and understand that the views of others do count as well and try to give this issue more time and not let it be something that divides our society.
Overall, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the changes to the Penal Code may keep it more relevant to this day and age and are to be welcomed.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support the Bill.
Ho Geok Choo
Sir, reactions to section 377A have been sharp and vocal, with several interest groups taking highly public positions on this particular provision. In fact, I understand that there is a disturbing undercurrent of violent hostilities surrounding this discussion. I would like to appeal to all interest groups and interested individuals to discuss section 377A in a calm and peaceful manner befitting a civil and civilised society. Sir, I would like to reiterate what Dr Balaji said recently, although in another context, and that is, "Whilst we encourage diversity in society, we must not allow divisiveness to cut society into a disintegrated one, especially in a small and open country like Singapore.". We must strike a balance.
Sir, I was reflecting on this issue and I realised that the Government is very much like the parents in the household. With a brood of children, born of the same parents, but with totally different characters, how do the parents ensure that within the family, there is space, tolerance, balance and peace and harmony in their co-existence? Of course, there are principles and values that parents must instil. But when there are disagreements, it is not enough to know what is wrong but it is important to know how to fix the problem as well. How could the parents do this without excluding any member of the family? This is the imperative task faced by the Government at the moment.
Ong Kian Min
I would state categorically that I am not in favour of mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle, but have not intended to speak on section 377A as the Government has consulted widely. Many have spoken on this issue and most Singaporeans let out a sigh of relief when they noticed that this Amendment Bill left the existing section 377A intact. Well, I do not want to dwell into the hypothetical scenario painted by Mr Baey Yam Keng as the fact remains that, outraged by Mr Siew Kum Hong's open Petition, many of my concerned constituents and friends have come forward to voice out their extreme unease about how this issue might evolve. And they feel that it is about time they let their stand be made known. They have come out more forcefully to make their views known and the Tampines GRC MPs have promised to express some of these views for them, the hitherto silent majority.
I would like to quote from one of my residents from my GRC, Miss Samantha Wong of Tampines Street 81:
"I cannot imagine the repercussions it [repeal of section 377A] would have on the morality of the society. This is a place where my children and children's children would grow up in. Thus I plead that this decision [the Government's decision in not changing section 377A] would not change for the sake of upholding the moral standards and family values in this nation. In no way does this petition [Mr Siew Kum Hong's petition] serve the interests of Singapore or us as Singaporeans, but only a small portion pushing to serve their own personal interests/agenda."
Sir, whether section 377A should be repealed or retained is an emotive issue that has aroused much debate. It has forced us to examine our beliefs and convictions against the context of changing perceptions and values that have happened over time. Judging by the number of signatures that the two opposing websites - "Repeal377A" and "Keep377A" - have amassed, it has compelled many of us to make a stand for what we believe in.
The true crux of the matter is whether Singaporeans are ready to openly accept homosexuality into mainstream society.
Although a vocal segment of society has garnered much support for the repeal of section 377A, the majority of Singaporeans have unequivocally rejected these cries to decriminalise homosexuality. The overwhelming sentiment of Singaporeans is that they are not prepared to compromise their conservative family values by opening up to alternative sexual behaviour, nor allowing it to permeate across time honoured boundaries into the conventional family sanctity.
Sir, I would like to thank Prof. Thio for giving me a history lesson yesterday on how the concept of marriage and modern-day family came about. The family unit has been acknowledged as the building block of society, praised as the foundation of social order and exalted as the bastion of civilisation. It is the family thatnurtures our children. It is the family that inspires us to contribute to our community. It is the family that believes in working towards a future. Every nation is fully cognisant of the importance of the family as the primary source of stability and growth. Singapore is no different. Our Government has demonstrated its commitment to preserve and strengthen the family structure through pro-family laws and policies. I believe that a great majority are keen to preserve the family unit as we know it - a family unit that consists of a father, a mother and their children.
In a fast-changing world, the traditional family unit is already vulnerable to various encroachments such as rising divorce rates, the increase in the number of single-parent households and work pressures. We must do all we can to support the integrity of the family and keep it safe from further challenges. By promoting homosexuality, we are effectively initiating a shift in the definition of the family unit. I gravely fear that repealing section 377A will lead to calls for further integration of homosexuality into our society. Singaporeans are simply not ready to change their family values at this point in time. Encouraging homosexuality will undermine the traditional family institution and weaken our social fabric. Let the family unit not be compromised.
The majority of Singaporeans want their children to grow up in a traditional environment that espouses healthy and wholesome traditional family values. We do not want the homosexual lifestyle to be promoted or celebrated.
Sir, I would also like to state that I support the retention of section 377A. I agree totally with what Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Law, Professor S Jayakumar, who recently presented this perspective when he spoke at the Rule of Law Symposium. In the application of the rule of law, it has to be in accordance with the social, cultural and political values of each society. I quote:
"Asian societies like Singapore generally give greater importance to the larger interests of the community in arriving at this balance. In western societies, the tilt is towards more emphasis on the rights of the individual."
In Singapore, we must continue to protect and uphold the traditional core family structure and values.
Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
Mr Speaker, Sir, before I end my speech, I would like to be heard on my views on the Petition to repeal section 377A of the Penal Code that has been brought to this House for debate.
Sir, the Petition brought forward by Mr Siew Kum Hong, in recent weeks, has attracted widespread attention and debate in both mainstream media channels as well as on the Internet. I have been following this debate, trying to understand what both sides of the coin present.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I have mentioned earlier that the Penal Code is a vital component of our judiciary system. It sets both the economic and social direction that our society would take in realising our vision for the nation while, at the same time, protecting the interests and rights of our society.
In recent weeks, I have heard many voices in both mainstream media and others that have called for the retention of section 377A. In private, I have personally received strong disapproval from my residents who have submitted their own petitions to retain section 377A. Feedback from the ground suggests that the majority of my constituents feel
the same way too. Like the hon. Mr Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Hong Kah GRC, I received similar feedback from my engagement with the members of the Malay community. In fact, in addition to the delicious rendang and ketupat, section 377A became a topic of discussion during my Hari Raya visits and gathering.
One feedback I received in particular was from a concerned parent, a mother in fact, whose son would be entering National Service soon which would put him in a male-oriented environment. She is concerned on how her son would have to manage this issue during his National Service. How would he and his fellow NS mates' focus be affected when their main objective was to protect our nation? And she is concerned that her son's sexual orientation may be influenced.
Though pro-petitioners to repeal section 377A could always have a counter argument against her concerns, I feel that it is still a genuine worry of many parents and reflects the sentiments of the society towards this issue. She further claimed that many of her friends and relatives are concerned about this issue and hope that the outcome of our debate would address their concerns.
Sir, I recognise that gay Singaporeans have contributed to our nation-building process and, like most Singaporeans, been loyal to our nation. However, I do feel that the act to repeal section 377A is against the mainstream approval of most Singaporeans.
Singapore is that unique Asian society that still embodies strong cultural traditions and religious roots while at the same time is also immersing itself in new cosmopolitan lifestyles and values. However, what makes us different is that we are discerning in our approach to find the right balance that meets the needs and aspirations of our people. I am not certain that repealing section 377A at this moment serves the larger interests of our nation.
On the issue of infringing the rights of gay Singaporeans, I do not think the community's rights are being put under the microscope. The gay community in the past and present has its private space in Singapore and, like other citizens, the rights to vote and enjoy the benefits that most Singaporeans are accorded.
Sir, the essence of my argument is to engage in a speech that the purpose of the Penal Code is in serving our society and nation in this ever complex world. To me, the Penal Code serves the interest of the community at large. The message that I heard loud and clear is that the majority of Singaporeans are not ready for open homosexuality acts to be part of our way of life yet.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to record my strong support that section 377A be retained in the Penal Code.
Lee Hsien Loong
- Main article: Lee Hsien Loong's views on homosexuality
Mr Speaker, Sir, this parliamentary debate is on the amendments to the Penal Code, but the hottest debate is on one section which is not being amended - section 377A.Both Mr Siew Kum Hong and Prof. Thio Li-ann quoted me with approval in their speeches yesterday, so I think I should state my position and the Government's position on this matter.
Because of the review of the Penal Code and the amendments, I think the gay community and the activists have staged a push to get the Government to open this subject and to abolish section 377A. They have written an open letter to me as Prime Minister, they have also petitioned Parliament on this issue on the grounds of constitutional validity, and the constitutional argument was made by Mr Siew Kum Hong yesterday in Parliament. I do not have to go into the details. It was rebutted very cogently by Ms Indranee Rajah and very passionately by Prof. Thio Li-ann. They are not my legal advisers. I take my legal advice from the Attorney-General, and his advice to the Government is quite clear.
The continued retention of section 377A would not be a contravention of the Constitution.
The Government has not taken this matter lightly. We had a long discussion amongst the Ministers. We had an extensive public consultation on the Penal Code amendments and we decided on this issue - to leave things be.
Let me, today, focus on the policy issue - what we want the law to be, and explain our thinking, our considerations, why we came to this conclusion. I would ask these questions: what is our attitude towards homosexuality? "Our", meaning the Government's attitude and Singaporeans' attitude too. How should these attitudes and these values be reflected in our legislation?
Many Members have said this, but it is true and it is worth saying again. Singapore is basically a conservative society. The family is the basic building block of our society. It has been so and, by policy, we have reinforced this and we want to keep it so. And by "family" in Singapore, we mean one man one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit.
If we look at the way our Housing and Development Board flats are, our neighbourhoods, our new towns, they are, by and large, the way Singaporeans live. It is not so in other countries, particularly in the West, anymore, but it is here.
I acknowledge that not everybody fits into this mould. Some are single, some have more colourful lifestyles, some are gay. But a heterosexual stable family is a social norm. It is what we teach in schools. It is also what parents want their children to see as their children grow up, to set their expectations and encourage them to develop in this direction. I think the vast majority of Singaporeans want to keep it this way. They want to keep our society like this, and so does the Government.
But, at the same time, we should recognise that homosexuals are part of our society. They are our kith and kin.
This is not just in Singapore. This is so in every society, in every period of history, back to pre-historic times, or at least as long as there have been records - biblical times and probably before.
What makes a person gay or homosexual? Well, partly, it could be the social environment. If we look at the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was quite normal for men to have homosexual relationships - an older man with a young boy. It does not mean that that was all they did - they had wives and children. But, socially, that was the practice. So, I think, the social environment has something to do with it.But there is growing scientific evidence that sexual orientation is something which is substantially inborn. I know that some will strongly disagree with this, but the evidence is accumulating. We can read the arguments and the debates on the Internet. Just to take one provocative fact, homosexual behaviour is not observed only amongst human beings but also amongst many species of mammals.
So, too, in Singapore, there is a small percentage of people, both male and female, who have homosexual orientations.
They include people "who are often responsible, invaluable, and highly respected contributing members of society".
I quote from the open letter which the petitioners have written to me, and it is true. They include people who are responsible and valuable, highly respected contributing members of society. And I would add that among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children.
They, too, must have a place in this society, and they, too, are entitled to their private lives. We should not make it harder than it already is for them to grow up and to live in a society where they are different from most Singaporeans. And we also do not want them to leave Singapore to go to more congenial places to live. But homosexuals should not set the tone for Singapore society.Nor do we consider homosexuals a minority, in the sense that we consider, say, Malays and Indians as minorities, with minority rights protected under the law - languages taught in schools, cultures celebrated by all races, representation guaranteed in Parliament through GRCs and so on.
And this is the point which Ms Indranee Rajah made yesterday in a different way.
This is the way Singapore society is today.This is the way the majority of Singaporeans want it to be. So, we should strive to maintain a balance, to uphold a stable society with traditional, heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and contribute to the society.
We have gradually been making progress towards achieving a closer approximation to this balance over the years. I do not think we will ever get a perfect balance, but I think we have a better arrangement now than was the case 10 or 20 years ago.
Homosexuals work in all sectors, all over the economy, in the public sector and in the civil service as well. They are free to lead their lives, free to pursue their social activities. But there are restraints and we do not approve of them actively promoting their lifestyles to others, or setting the tone for mainstream society. They live their lives. That is their personal life, it is their space. But the tone of the overall society, I think, remains conventional, it remains straight, and we want it to remain so.
So, for example, the recent case of Mr Otto Fong, who is a teacher in Raffles Institution. He is gay and he is a good teacher by all accounts. He put up a blog which described his own sexual inclinations, and explained how he was gay. He circulated to his colleagues and it became public. So MOE looked at this. The school spoke to the teacher.
The teacher understood that this was beyond the limit, because how he lives is his own thing. But what he disseminates comes very close to promoting a lifestyle. So, they spoke to him, he took down his blog. He posted an explanation, he apologised for what he had done, and he continues teaching in RI today. So there is space, and there are limits.
De facto, gays have a lot of space in Singapore.Gay groups hold public discussions. They publish websites. I have visited some of them. There are films and plays on gay themes. In fact, sometimes people ask, "Why are there so many? Aren't there other subjects in the world?" But since we have allowed it in the last few years, maybe this is a letting off of pressure. Eventually, we will find a better balance.
There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. Everybody knows where they are. They do not have to go underground. We do not harass gays. The Government does not act as moral policemen. And we do not proactively enforce section 377A on them.
But this does not mean that we have reached a broad social consensus, that this is a happy state of affairs, because there are still very different views amongst Singaporeans on whether homosexuality is acceptable or morally right.
And we heard these views aired in Parliament over these last two days.
Some are convinced, passionately so, that homosexuality is an abomination, to quote Prof. Thio Li-ann's words
yesterday.Others, probably many more, are uncomfortable with homosexuals, more so with public display of homosexual behaviour. Yet others are more tolerant and accepting.
There is a range of views. There is also a range of degrees to which people are seized with this issue. Many people are not that seized with this issue. And speaking candidly, I think the people who are very seized with this issue are a minority. For the majority of Singaporeans - this is something that they are aware of but it is not the top of their consciousness - including, I would say, amongst them a significant number of gays themselves. But, also, I would say, amongst the Chinese-speaking community in Singapore. The Chinese-speaking Singaporeans are not strongly engaged, either for removing section 377A or against removing section 377A. Their attitude is: live and let live.
So, even in this debate in these two days, Members would have noticed that there have been very few speeches made in Parliament in Mandarin on this subject. I know Mr Baey Yam Keng made one this afternoon, but Mr Low Thia Khiang did not. It reflects the focus of the Chinese-speaking ground and their mindsets. So, for the majority of Singaporeans, their attitude is a pragmatic one. We live and let live.
The current legal position in Singapore reflects these social norms and attitudes, as Ms Indranee Rajah and Mr Hri Kumar explained yesterday. It is not legally neat and tidy. Mr Hri Kumar gave a very professional explanation of how untidy it is, but it is a practical arrangement that has evolved out of our historical circumstances. We are not starting from a blank slate, trying to design an ideal arrangement; neither are we proposing new laws against homosexuality. We have what we have inherited and what we have adapted to our circumstances. And as Mr Hri Kumar pointed out, we inherited section 377A from the British, imported from English Victorian law - Victorian from the period of Queen Victoria in the 19th century - via the Indian Penal Code, via the Straits Settlements Penal Code, into Singapore law.
Asian societies do not have such laws, not in Japan, China and Taiwan. But it is part of our landscape. We have retained it over the years. So, the question is: what do we want to do about it now? Do we want to do anything about it now? If we retain it, we are not enforcing it proactively. Nobody has argued for it to be enforced very vigorously in this House. If we abolish it, we may be sending the wrong signal that our stance has changed, and the rules have shifted.
But because of the Penal Code amendments, section 377A has become a symbolic issue, a point for both opponents and proponents to tussle around. The gayactivists want it removed.Those who are against gay values and lifestyle argue strongly to retain it. And both sides have mobilised to campaign for their causes. There was a Petition to remove section 377A. It accumulated a couple of thousand signatures which were presented to this House.
Therefore, there was a counter-petition to retain it, which collected 15,000 signatures - at least, according to the newspapers. I have not counted the signatures - 16,000.
An hon. Member: 15,560.
The Prime Minister: 15,560 signatures. It has probably gone up since we last started speaking.There was also an open letter to me.The Ministers and I have received many emails and letters on this subject. I have received emails too in my mail box, very well written, all following a certain model answer style.
So it is a very well organised campaign. And not only writing letters, but constituents have visited MPs at meet-the-people sessions to see the MP, not because there is anything they want done, but to congratulate the MP on what a good Government this is, that we are keeping section 377A, and please stay a good Government, and please do not change it.
I do not doubt the depth of the sentiments and the breadth of the support but it is also a very well organised pressure campaign. But I am not surprised that this issue is still contentious, because even in the West, even where they have liberalised, homosexuality still remains a very contentious issue. They decriminalised homosexual acts decades ago, in the 1960s, 1970s, and they have gone a long way towards accepting gays in society. They not only have gays in prominent places, but if you want to have a complete Cabinet or a complete line-up when you go for elections, you must have some on your list so that you are seen to have been inclusive. This is certainly so in Europe, also true in America.
But still the issue is bitterly disputed. So in America, there are fierce debates over gay rights and same-sex marriages. And the conservatives in America are pushing back. President George Bush has been calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and not between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. This is in America. So the issue is still joined. Even within the churches, it is a hot subject. The Anglican Church, Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had liberal views on gay issues. He became the Archbishop. He has moderated his views, because he has to reflect the Church as a whole.
And even within the church, the Church in England, and the Church in America have a very serious disagreement with the Anglican churches in Asia and in Africa, who almost split away on this issue of ordination of gay people as bishops. And they have patched up in a compromise recently in America and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is head of the church, had to plead with his community to come to some understanding so that they maintain the Anglican communion.
So, this is not an issue where we can reach happy consensus and abolishing section 377A, were we to do this, is not going to end the argument in Singapore. Among the conservative Singaporeans, the deep concerns over the moral values of society will remain and, among the gay rights' activists, abolition is not going to give them what they want because what they want is not just to be freed from section 377A, but more space and full acceptance by other Singaporeans. And they have said so. So, supposing we move on 377A, I think the gay activists would push for more, following the example of other avant garde countries in Europe and America, to change what is taught in the schools, to advocate same-sex marriages and parenting, to ask for, to quote from their letter, "...exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman." This is quoting from the open letter which the petitioners wrote to me. And when it comes to these issues, the majority of Singaporeans will strenuously oppose these follow-up moves by the gay campaigners and many who are not anti-gay will be against this agenda, and I think for good reason.
Therefore, we have decided to keep the status quo on section 377A. It is better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity. It works, do not disturb it. Mr Stewart Koe, who is one of the petitioners, was interviewed yesterday and he said he wanted the Government to remove the ambiguity and clarify matters. He said the current situation is like, I quote him, "Having a gun put to your head and not pulling the trigger. Either put the gun down or pull the trigger." First of all, I do not think it is like that, and secondly, I do not think it is wise to try to force the issue. If you try and force the issue and settle the matter definitively, one way or the other, we are never going to reach an agreement within Singapore society. People on both sides hold strong views. People who are presently willing to live and let live will get polarised and no views will change, because many of the people who oppose it do so on very deeply held religious convictions, particularly the Christians and the Muslims and those who propose it on the other side, they also want this as a matter of deeply felt fundamental principles. So, discussion and debate is not going to bring them closer together. And instead of forging a consensus, we will divide and polarise our society.
I should therefore say that as a matter of reality, the more the gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push back from conservative forces in our society, as we are beginning to see already in this debate and over the last few weeks and months. And the result will be counter productive because it is going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore. So it is better to let the situation evolve gradually. We are a completely open society. Members have talked about it - the Internet, travel, full exposure.
We cannot be impervious to what is happening elsewhere. As attitudes around the world change, this will influence the attitude of Singaporeans. As developments around the world happen, we must watch carefully and decide what we do about it. When it comes to issues like the economy, technology, education, we better stay ahead of the game, watch where people are moving and adapt faster than others, ahead of the curve, leading the pack. And when necessary on such issues, we will move even if the issue is unpopular or controversial. So we are moving on CPF changes, we are moving on so many economic restructuring changes. We moved on IRs - it is a difficult subject, not everybody supports the Government, but we decide this is right, we move.
On issues of moral values with consequences to the wider society, first we should also decide what is right for ourselves, but secondly, before we are carried away by what other societies do, I think it is wiser for us to observe the impact of radical departures from the traditional norms on early movers. These are changes which have very long lead times before the impact works through, before you see whether it is wise or unwise. Is this positive? Does it help you to adapt better? Does it lead to a more successful, happier, more harmonious society?
So, we will let others take the lead, we will stay one step behind the frontline of change; watch how things work out elsewhere before we make any irrevocable moves. We were right to uphold the family unit when western countries went for experimental lifestyles in the 1960s - the hippies, free love, all the rage, we tried to keep it out. It was easier then, all you had were LPs and 45 RPM records, not this cable vision, the Internet and travel today. But I am glad we did that, because today if you look at Western Europe, the marriage as an institution is dead. Families have broken down, the majority of children are born out of wedlock and live in families where the father and the mother are not the husband and wife living together and bringing them up. And we have kept the way we are. I think that has been right.
I think we have also been right to adapt, to accommodate homosexuals in our society, but not to allow or encourage activists to champion gay rights as they do in the West. So I suggest, Mr Speaker, and I suggest to the Members of the House, we keep this balance, leave section 377A alone. I think there is space in Singapore and room for us to live harmoniously and practically, all as Singapore citizens together. Thank you very much. [Applause.]
Lim Biow Chuan
Finally, Sir, on the issue of section 377A, I wish to state my support for the Government's position of retaining section 377A of the Penal Code. I had originally not intended to speak on this topic. But in view of the Petition presented by Nominated MP Mr Siew Kum Hong, I feel that I should state that not all MPs agree with Mr Siew's arguments. I do not agree, Sir, that the role of the criminal law is only to punish those who have caused harm to others. If that is the case, as my fellow MPs had said yesterday, why do we have laws on attempted suicide? Why do we have laws prohibiting the sale of obscene materials? Why do we have laws against incest? Should we be bothered whether a father decides to sleep with his adult daughter in the privacy of their own home? Why do we bother to make it an offence for someone to have sex with animals? This is in section 377B. In fact, with this current amendment Bill, Sir, we have just introduced a new offence of necrophilia, which is this abhorrent act of engaging in sex with a corpse. Does this offence harm society? Does it make Singapore unsafe or less secure?
Sir, the basic position of Parliament should be that we make laws to reflect the public morality of our times. In this situation, Sir, I agree with the views of Ms Indranee Rajah. I support the Government's stand because I do not agree with the practice of homosexuality. This is not just my personal view but alsothe views of many of my residents when I sought their opinion. With the greatest respect to the Prime Minister, I must state that I do not think that there is conclusive evidence that homosexual behaviour is inborn. The jury is out on this issue, and different scientists would have different views on the matter.
Let me state unequivocally, Sir, that I am not anti-gay. The fact that I disagree with the practice of homosexuality does not mean that I despise homosexuals. In fact, like the hon. Member, Mr Baey Yam Keng, I have friends who are gay, and my approach to them is simply that "I do not agree with your lifestyle. But I would respect you for who you are. So if you are a decent chap, an honest and hardworking person, your sexual orientation or preference does not affect the way I see you. I would treat and respect you as another fellow citizen." And I do not believe that any Member in this House would turn away a person who comes to him during a meet-the-people session seeking financial help simply on the ground that this person is a homosexual. I believe that the majority of Singaporeans do not condemn a homosexual or a gay simply because of his lifestyle. Nor do they wish to criminalise a homosexual.
However, as my fellow MP, Mr Christopher de Souza, said, the messaging or signpost is important. As MPs, we have to send the message that Singapore is a conservative society whereby the family unit is still seen as the basic structure of society. I believe, Sir, we have not accused gays of being criminals, nor do I know of any petition to enforce section 377A.
Sir, in conclusion, I would like to state that I support the amendment Bill on the Penal Code.
Seah Kian Peng
Sir, I made some reference to the normative nature of the law-making process at the start of this speech. With regard to section 377A, I have heard many stories and quotes that Mr Siew Kum Hong has related about homosexuals living in Singapore. It is difficult not to be moved by them. At the same time, I know that his accusations about the tyranny of the majority are false. This matter is one of principle and not of numbers. If we acted with the tyranny of the majority, why do we have the GRC system, where ethnic minorities are protected? Or if we were truly trying to be on the side of numbers, why did we not go along with the Malaysians in 1963 when they asked us to be part of a Malay Malaysia? Or in the case of Myanmar, why do we not side with China or India, and take a completely "hands off approach"? The numbers are certainly there. Or why do we not be like the US or Europe? The number of people may be smaller but the guns are larger.
Sir, this is the real slippery slope. If we abdicate debate and discourse for mere accounting, we would not be upholding our role as Members of Parliament. I believe that this debate has given an airing to both sides of the argument. My own view is a simple one. I would be the mother who loves her gay son. I would be the man who loves his gay brother. I would be the first to stand up for a gay man's right to be treated as an equal under the law.
Yet, I am a Member of Parliament who believes that, as a nation, our families are not ready to have an open acceptance of the gay lifestyle, including same-sex marriages and gay adoption of young children. I believe that these key institutions would be weakened by the repeal of section 377A. This view, like this debate, is a matter of principle, not of numbers.
Sir, I support the Bill.
- Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code
- PAP MPs for the repeal of Section 377A
- Archive of "Parliamentary debate on Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 22 Oct 2007"
- Archive of "Parliamentary debate on Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 23 Oct 2007"
- Archive of parliamentary debate on Section 377A (22, 23 October 2007)
- Singapore Parliamentary Reports (Hansard), Penal Code (Amendment Bill) dated 22 October 2007:.
- A playlist of all videos pertaining to Section 377A of the Penal Code:.